LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — The U.S. women’s bobsled team is used to winning. In the eight IBSF World Cup races last year, Elana Meyers Taylor and Jamie Greubel Poser collectively won six. Meyers Taylor is the reigning world champion and Greubel Poser the reigning overall world cup champ.
So to finish second and fourth at the first world cup of the 2018 Olympic season — on a home track — was a disappointment.
Meyers Taylor and brakeman Lauren Gibbs finished second, just 0.03 seconds behind Kaillie Humphries, the 2010 and 2014 Olympic champion from Canada. And Greubel Poser, in third place after the first run with Olympic bronze-medal-winning teammate Aja Evans, finished a heart-breaking 0.01 seconds off the podium in fourth behind German pilot Stephanie Schneider.
Meyers Taylor and Gibbs last slid together at the 2016 world championships, where they won bronze.
“I’m happy with it,” said Meyers Taylor, adding that weather has conspired against them this year. Unseasonably warm weather in the northeast this fall kept them off the ice, and they did not get many training runs.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit with different ice conditions, but that’s bobsled,” she added. “It’s not necessarily a sport that’s made to be done in October.”
It was the fifth time that Meyers Taylor has finished on the podium in Lake Placid (as a pilot; she was a brakeman through the 2010 Olympic Winter Games).
“To beat the Americans on any track is difficult,” said Humphries, who first learned to drive on the Lake Placid track after the 2006 Olympic Winter Games (at an international driving school). “They’re putting up a hell of a fight. They have for the last four years. They’re getting stronger and stronger at the start. Elana and Jamie are both very strong drivers as well. Any track we go to they’re always right there.”
In addition to the silver medal, Meyers Taylor and Gibbs — a former volleyball player at Brown University — shattered the track start record. They lowered it from 5.42 seconds to 5.34.
But that was just the official new record. Meyers Taylor broke the start record three times in last month’s national team trials – each time with a different brakeman.
“I don’t think I ever thought pushing in the thirties [5.30s] was possible until two of my other teammates did it,” said Gibbs. “I can’t say we’re good from top to bottom because there is no bottom. We’re great from side to side.”
It was Greubel Poser’s 34th birthday, but she did not get the gift she hoped for. The winner of the past two Lake Placid World Cups, she slipped off the podium in the final corners of her second run.
“To get over this first hurdle with this first race being here in Lake Placid, it was big just to get it out of the way,” said Evans. “Now we can keep moving on and keep pursuing PyeongChang.”
Beyond Greubel Poser’s disappointing result, the American women were all subdued. This is the first world cup since legendary bobsled pilot Steven Holcomb died unexpectedly in May. Many of the American bobsledders had thought Lake Placid would be the best place to begin the world cup.
But it ended up being harder than expected. Holcomb’s equipment and tools are still in Lake Placid — at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and at the track — and the team is using much of what he left. As she prepared for the race this week, Meyers Taylor was overcome by sadness.
“We’re trying to figure out how to honor him and maintain our focus,” she said. “I’m way more emotional than I thought. But the good news is we’ve got each other and we’ve got a team.”
The team’s speed suits have “SH” in the shape of the Superman logo on the left sleeve. Holcomb used to wear a Superman shirt under his speed suit.
“I don’t have any expectations for [the season] to be normal,” said Evans. “I think it’s going to be a little different this entire season. I just hope everyone can deal with it in their own ways and continue to push forward and keep their dreams and goals in mind.”
The team next moves to Park City, Utah — another home track in what was once Holcomb’s hometown (before he moved to Lake Placid), with a week-to-week progression to PyeongChang. Meyers Taylor is not feeling the pressure of the Games. At least not yet.
“I think the biggest thing is trying to make improvements every single run, every single trip down the track so we’re ready at the Games,” she said. “If anything, it’s a little less pressure because we’re working towards something; we’re working toward making sure we’re ready to go at those Olympics.”A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.